GM excels in IIHS crash test on midsize SUVs; Honda ranks last

General Motors got some much-needed good news Tuesday with the announcement that two of its midsize SUVs are the safest in their segment, according to recent crash tests.

The 2014 Chevrolet Equinox and its GMC twin, the Terrain, were the only vehicles to earn the “good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in its front overlap crash test.

The result helped the GM vehicles earn the IIHS’ coveted Top Safety Pick Plus recommendation. Also garnering the designation was Toyota’s 2014 Highlander, though it only earned an “acceptable” rating in the small overlap crash test.

Honda’s Pilot was the lowest-ranked vehicle of the group, a surprisingly poor performance for a company that has recently excelled in crash ratings.

The IIHS began putting all vehicles through the new front overlap crash test in 2012 after research showed that about a quarter of all serious injuries in frontal collisions came from this type of crash. This test replicates what happens to a vehicle when the front corner of it hits a fixed object, like a telephone pole or a tree. The vehicles are scored “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal” or “poor.”

For 2014, the IIHS upped the ante for automakers to earn its recommendations. To be a Top Safety Pick, a vehicle needs to rate either “good” or “acceptable” in the small overlap crash tests, and “good” ratings in four other tests. Above that, only models with optional front crash prevention systems are eligible for the Top Safety Pick Plus award.

The other vehicles tested were 2014 models of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorrento, and Mazda CX-9. None were named a Top Safety Pick.

“SUVs have gotten much safer over the past few generations, but some are better than others at providing comprehensive front crash protection,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president, in a statement. “When it comes to midsize SUVs, General Motors is showing the way forward.”

Safety is often one of the top three factors affecting which car consumers drive home from the dealership. As a result, automakers have been eager to garner top safety ratings by the IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and then tout the awards in their advertising.

GM’s results couldn’t have come at a better time for the beleaguered brand. The automaker is facing sharp criticism from lawmakers, safety advocates, and consumers for its delayed recall of more than 2.6 million vehicles whose defective ignition switches are tied to at least 13 deaths. Though GM knew about the switches as early as 2001, the automaker didn’t begin recalling them until February of this year.

“Having the only two midsize SUVs that earned the Top Safety Pick Plus designation speaks to GM’s continued focus on improving our vehicles and keeping our customers safe,” Gay Kent, general director of General Motors vehicle safety and crashworthiness, said in a statement. “We are very pleased that the IIHS has recognized the safety of both the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain with this prestigious rating.”

Honda was less happy. Its Pilot scored the worst in the midsize SUV segment, earning an overall “poor” score. It was a surprising turnaround, given that the current Accord and Civic sedans and Odyssey minivan have each won Top Safety Pick Plus designations.

Yet the Pilot’s driver space was “seriously compromised” by the overlap crash test, the IIHS said. Injuries to the driver’s left hip, knee and both lower legs would be possible, the tests found.

Honda took issue with the IIHS findings, going so far as to issue a statement ahead of the agency’s announcement. The automaker pointed out that the 2013 Honda Pilot – which shares an identical structure to the 2014 model in this recent test – was an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2013.

In addition to the Honda Pilot, the Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9 all received “poor” ratings for structure in the crash tests.

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